McIlroy willing to go down swinging at Carnoustie
If you sat in Rory McIlroy’s pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday at The 147th Open, you would have heard the Ulsterman fielding questions about his chances this week with responses that were hopeful yet tempered.
Having made his major championship debut at Carnoustie in 2007, opening with a bogey-free 68, making the cut and eventually winning Silver Medal honors, there’s plenty of positives to draw on around these links. Plenty of reason to think that this week, this site could be where McIlroy ends his winless drought in majors that dates back to the 2014 PGA Championship.
But there was an undertone of lethargy to the 29-year-old’s comments on Wednesday, almost to shield himself and everyone else from the disappointment if he were to come up short at yet another major. He repeatedly emphasized that he is more than the sum of his wins.
"I've become more balanced,” McIlroy said. “I try to see the bigger picture and I try to have some perspective in my life. It isn't all about trying to win golf tournaments and chase titles.
"You could have as much success on the golf course as you want, but as long as you return to your friends or your family who just love you for you and don't care if you've won a Claret Jug or not, that's what life's about, and that's the important thing."
Fast-forward two days and two consecutive rounds of 69 later that have McIlroy planted firmly in the mix, the man who sits at the podium midday on Friday remains tempered.
But make no mistake, there’s fire within.
“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving it my best,” McIlroy said.
That’s a lesson he learned – or perhaps re-learned – after this year’s Masters, where McIlroy was paired alongside Patrick Reed in the final group on Sunday. Three shots back to begin the day and with a(nother) chance to complete the career Grand Slam, McIlroy then intonated that all the pressure was on Reed. It was Reed who would have to overcome fear and doubts. Mighty McIlroy, owner of four majors, had things under control.
We all know the result – McIlroy’s lack of control apparent on his first swing of the day – a driver straight right into the trees and pine straw. A final-round 74 left him in a tie for 5th, the nail in the coffin on yet another lost opportunity.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from – you know, Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve again for me because even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”
In wind and rain Friday morning, McIlroy plodded his way around Carnoustie, having to alter his strategy – aggressive, lots of drivers – he set at the beginning of the week.
“It was just damp enough and cold enough that the game plan that I was trying to adapt to be aggressive and hit driver a lot, I just couldn’t do it,” McIlroy said. “All the bunkers were in play …with the ball being wet and the club face, the possibility of that getting wet, you know, the spin rate goes down on the driver, and it could start to go either way.”
On a day that could have gotten away from him, McIlroy showed patience and composure. He’ll continue to show us this week a man who plays without fear, willing to fight to the finish.
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